TotalFTA.com is the easy, friendly guide to satellite Free-To-Air television and radio reception in Canada and the USA. Here's where to find out about all the freely available TV channels you can get, and what you need to get them.
What is FTA?
FTA is the acronym for Free to Air. FTA signals are unencrypted
signals. They can be reliably received via any broadcast receiver. This
allows viewers to hear radio and see television programming like CNN
and HBO, for example, clearly.
The simplest way to think of FTA is that it is akin to
television what shortwave radio is to radio.
Looking for channels? You've come to the right place! Checkout this link for FTA Master Channel List.
The Cost of FTA
While FTA is not encrypted signals, this does not necessarily
mean they are free. Depending on the geographic area and the medium
delivered, some FTA programming is paid for by viewers.
Examples of Paid FTA
Satellite TV: As FTA is sometimes delivered via satellite, the
consumer pays for it, usually in the form of a subscription service.
This is because satellite television usually offers a wider range of
services and channels than more traditional television.
Licensing Fees: Most countries require what's known as a
broadcasting license to send out programming to the viewing public.
This includes television and radio.
The manner in which broadcast licensing fees are collected vary
from country to country. Radio was the first broadcast medium to
collect broadcast licensing fees. When television came along, many
countries simply expanded the radio broadcast license to include
television broadcast licensing fees. Other countries created a separate
license to cover television programming.
No matter how it's collected, most countries use the fees
collected under broadcast licensing in similar ways, ie, to fund
projects like Public Broadcast System (PBS) programming. This ensures
that broadcasts without funding from more market-driven standbys like
commercials can also be shown.
Licensing fees for FTA programming can take several forms, eg,
voluntary donation and/or product/service sponsorship.
Voluntary donation is one of the most popular ways. If you've
ever viewed a PBS program, then you're probably familiar with this
method of paid-for FTA programming. Usually, between segments, a PBS
representative or an announcer tells you how important it is to donate
if you enjoy the type of programming PBS offers.
Then, an 800 number or and address is given so you can call or
send in your donation, which can be paid for by check or credit card.
This is done numerous times throughout the program, and donators are
customarily rewarded with some type of gift, usually based on some type
of tiered system.
For example, if you donate $20, you might receive a t-shirt;
$50 free DVD of the program you're viewing, or $250, a box set of
programming on "x" subject.
Collecting FTA licensing fees via sponsorship is a little
different. Sponsorship is more or less corporate branding.
To explain, a company may agree to sponsor a certain athlete or
team in exchange for their brand being visibly displayed. So, when you
turn on the TV to see a car race, for example, all the signage along
the track route will be of the sponsor.
Compared to buying slots of air time that viewers may or may
not see, this is ideal way for most corporate clients to advertise
Many television and radio customers are only accustomed to
receiving the channels that their local service providers offer. But,
did you know that worldwide, experts estimate that there are over 5,000
free to air (FTA) radio and television channels available to the
listening and viewing public.
Television is a popular FTA medium. To gain access though,
proper equipment is needed. Basically, all you need to start accessing
FTA channels on television is an FTA receiver and a satellite dish.
Your local electronics store can supply you with everything you need.
One vital part of getting hooked up to view FTA TV is FTA
files. Free to Air files, aka "dish files" allow you to have continuous
access to FTA programming.
How FTA Files Work
FTA files work with an FTA receiver to stay updated on the
satellites in space. For channels to be properly display, the keys on
the FTA receiver have to be constantly updated. This can be done
manually, or automatically. If done manually, they have to be updated
up to four times a day. This can prove to be inconvenient.
FTA files allow your receiver keys to automatically roll over
and receive the most updated information from the satellites in space.
This means that after you originally load the files, it is hands-free
Many do-it-yourselfers find that the most difficult part of
setting up satellite television is correctly hooking up your receiver
to your TV to receive the FTA files signal. Spending the money to have
a professional get you hooked up initially might be the most prudent
course of action to take.
Matching FTA Receivers with the Proper FTA Files
Most FTA file providers supply FTA receivers with various types
of capability, eg:
FTA Files for the Coolsat 5000 Platinum Receiver: This receiver
offers FTA satellite service to users in Canada, the USA and the
Caribbean. Ease of setup, amazing sound and clear picture, make this
one of the most sought after FTA receivers by satellite TV owners.
General Price Range: From $125 to about $275.
FTA Files for the Pansat 3500SD FTA Digital Satellite Receiver:
What some might refer to as a "fully loaded" FTA receiver, it has
everything you might need to get the most from FTA TV.
Some of its features include: Fully compliant MPEG-2 Digital
& DVB broadcasting capability; Multi-language OSD; up to 5,000 TV
& radio programs; universal remote, SD (secure digital) card
access; and 256-Colors (graphic user interface) number.
General Price Range: From $150 to about $250.
FTA Files for the Captiveworks CW 600s Satellite Receiver: The
CaptiveWorks CW-600S receiver supplies FTA reception for US and
Canadian satellite consumers.
The Premium edition of this receiver offers some one-of-a-kind
components, ie, a swifter Conexant Main Processor for starters. Some of
its standard features are an easy-to-use interface, auto smart
satellite search, multi-timer function, and a 32Mb Flash ROM for fast,
easy channel surfing.
General Price Range: From just under $100 to well over $700 for
the premium ten pack.
FTA forums are an invaluable tool for learning about and
keeping abreast of FTA technology. For the uninitiated, FTA stands for
Free to Air, as in free broadcast television and radio programming.
In a global economy FTA programming can be an insightful way to
keep up on what's going on in various parts of the world. It is
estimated that there are some 5,000 radio and TV programs available
worldwide for FTA viewing.
If you're interested in accessing FTA broadcasts, you need to
first familiarize yourself with the technology of the industry. FTA
forums are ideal for this.
FTA Receivers: A Popular FTA Forum Topic
Because receivers are one of the basics of satellite TV
technology, most FTA forums are rife with commentary about them. There
are four major brands of FTA receivers (Coolsat, Pansat, Viewsat, and
SonicView) and you will find questions about all of them in a good FTA
forum. are.Some common questions answered about receivers in FTA forums
What FTA Receiver to Buy: As FTA receivers receive satellite
transmissions and decodes the data compression protocol of the
transmission, finding out as much as you can about the functionality of
it before buying is crucial. FTA forums provide a host of feedback on
this. Going beyond which ones to buy, most FTA forums offer user advice
on which ones not to buy as well, which can be equally as important..
FTA Receiver Price: There is a wide gap in price on FTA
receivers - from under $100 on up to $1,000 or more. Which one you get
depends on where you live, how many channels you want to be able to
receive and more.
Prowling a few FTA forums will get you readily familiar with
the best ones to look for in your price range.
Advice on How to Hook Up an FTA Receiver: Hooking up the
initial technology can be a major stumbling block for FTA customers.
FTA forums are rife with information on this, as many do-it-yourselfers
encounter the same problems.
Other Popular FTA Forum Topics
FTA Files: FTA files work with an FTA receiver to stay updated
on the satellites in space. Hence, FTA files are popular forum topics.
FTA Forum Rules
Most FTA forums require you to sign up to ask questions. Some
require you to sign up to have any kind of access. Some forums will ask
you to donate, but most of them are free to join and don't require
anything more than an email address.
Rules you'll find in any other forum tends apply to FTA forums
as well, eg, no spamming, no self-serving commentary, no flaming other
forum users, etc.
Perhaps one of the best parts of FTA forums is that you can ask
questions if you don't find the answer to your specific problem. So, if
FTA broadcasts is something you're thinking about getting, visit a few
FTA forums to become familiar with all that you don't know, and to
enhance what you do know.
Viewsat is an FTA receiver and roundly touted as one of the
best on the market for satellite TV reception.
Viewsat the Popularity of Satellite Programming
One of the most exciting components of a global economy is
having the ability to know what's going on in various parts of the
world as it happens, and dissecting how it affects your life.
Satellite TV and radio make this possible. One of the best
mediums for this is digital broadcasting. It is clear, offers access to
a multitude of channels and is relatively cheap, making it a natural
choice moving forward. MPEG-2 is a universal satellite transmission
norm for digital broadcasting. And, the Viewsat FTA receiver is one of
Types of Viewsat FTA Receivers
Viewsat VS Pro: A powerful FTA receiver and widely acclaimed as
one of the best on the market, the Viewsat VS PRO offers the following
features: MPEG-2 & DVB Compliant, S-Video Output, USB Host
interface, 22 KHz Switching Control, Fast Booting & Auto Scan, 6000
Channel accessibility (combined TV and radio) and more. At about $200,
it's one of the best you can buy in this price range.
Viewsat Ultra: In the Viewsat line of receivers, ultra doesn't
begin to describe the power of this receiver, eg, 32 Mb of SD RAM and a
fast 200 MHz processor. The rear panel of this receiver is situated
horizontally, and the side panel is different from other receivers as
Another great feature of this model? It can be updated via a
USB flash drive, instead of RS232 cables.
Cost: Roughly $175.
The Viewsat Ultra V2: Perhaps the best-selling FTA receiver, it
is fast, has double the memory of comparable receivers, and is
updatable via a USB port.
Equipped with a universal remote, it also has a color-rich
graphic user interface. Some other features are: Fully MPEG-2 & DVB
compliant; PIG support; fast booting and auto scan; 4000 Channel
Programmable (TV and radio) capability; and a Radio Channel Screen
Cost: From $125-$175.
Viewsat VS2000 Platinum LITE: The Platinum Lite receiver was in
response to customer demand for a more price-friendly unit with roughly
the same capability as the Viewsat Platinum.
So, a few features were adjusted to accommodate, ie: removal of
the card reader, no Dolby output and standard remote instead of
universal. Other than these minor adjustments, its comparable to the
Viewsat Platinum, with a cost of around $130.
Viewsat Xtreme: An upgrade from the Viewsat Platinum, the
Viewsat Extreme is one of the most deluxe FTA receivers on the market
today -- providing reception in Canada, the USA and the Caribbean.
Designed and manufactured in Korea, it is one of the best FTA
receivers on the market. Some of its features are: 6 RCA outputs, 4000
radio and TV channel member, built in satellite card reader, PIG
support, universal remote and of course, full MPEG-2 and DVD compliance.
If you're looking for the best in FTA reception, Viewsat FTA
receivers are worth looking into.
When it comes to free to air receivers (aka FTA receivers),
Sonicview is fast becoming a popular brand. Manufactured by the
industry dominating Viewsat, it's no wonder.
Why Sonicview, Why Now?
Viewsat is an industry leader in FTA receivers. Built on the
reliance of an accessible, fast customer support department, this same
service is available to purchasers of Sonicview FTA receivers.
Sonicview FTA receivers are constructed using the highest
industry standards. They offer satellite reception to Canadian,
American and Caribbean citizens, and are all equipped with blind power
scan. This allows you to hook up directly with satellites in the sky
and then surf for channels.
The 4 Types of Sonicview Receivers
Following are the four types of Sonicview receivers that have
been released to date, and some of their features.
The Sonicview SV 1000: The first receiver to be released by
Sonicview, it was an almost instant hit with its user-friendly
interface. Providing the ability to view as many as 3500 channels, in
its class this is one of the most competitive FTA receivers on the
Some common features include: Instant (EPG) 7 Days Full TV
Guide (no waiting); 32Mb Flash ROM for Fast Channel surfing, vivid
on-screen graphics, digital audio output, parental lock function, 6000
channel programmability, and S-video output.
The Sonicview 1000 PVR: The SV-1000PVR is an upgraded version
of the SV-1000, offering all of the same functions. Via an external USB
hard drive, one of the best features of this receiver is the ability to
record shows, even when the user is not present. Furthermore, you can
record one program while viewing another, or record two shows on two
different channels at once.
Some other popular features of this receiver: 6,000 Channels
Memory Capacity for TV & radio programs, eight favorite-channel
list grouping; two tuners (Sharp NIM and Blind Scan Supported); zoom
in, zoom out picture watching capability; universal remote control;
various recording capacities (eg, 40 Hours; 80Hours; or
100Hours),depending on HDD size.
It's easy to see why this is an extremely popular FTA receiver.
The Sonicview SV 4000: The Sonicview SV-4000 is an even more
powerful receiver than the Sonicview 1000PVR. Connecting directly to a
PC via a USB hard drive, it makes programming other receivers seamless.
Additional features: USB 2.0 Host Slot for Downloading; Full
MPEG-2 & DVB-S support and 32 MB flash ROM for lightning-quick
channel surfing. Retails for between $130-$150.
The Sonicview HD 8000: Relatively expensive compared to SV
products without HD capability, it's well worth the price though if you
want it. A hi-powered FTA digital receiver, it has a sleek, modern
design and is extremely user friendly.
Using an external hard drive, all you need to do is plug it in,
navigate the menu options with ease and start recording all of your
favorite TV shows and movies. Because of digital technology, the
clarity of the picture is unbelievable.
Sonicview FTA receivers come with a standard one-year warranty,
which covers parts and labor. It is all you're likely to need.
Welcome to Total FTA. This forum is now offshore owned and
operated and provides the same great service TotalFTA has always had to
offer. Whether you need TotalFTA.com to provide you with the latest
files or guides for your TotalFTA supported total FTA receiver, you
will only find the highest quality. From now on Total FTA should be
your FTAHQ for the newest files.
Viewsat is a priority. Brought to you by Viewtech in
California, these korean built Viewsat receivers provide great use for
satellite television users. Viewsat makes receivers for all kinds of
uses with all kinds of features. From the corporate Viewsat to the end
user, support can be expected for your Viewsat brand receiver at all
times. Think about making your next purchase a Viewsat purchase and get
a Viewsat guide alongside.
The Viewsat Ultra is one of the brands flagship models. With
it's many cool tools and features, the Viewsat Ultra provides great
benefit to the end user. Any consumer can easily use the incredible
functionality that the Viewsat Ultra has to offer. This incredible fta
receiver provides great benefit such as Viewsat Ultra USB key loading;
a first seen in the Viewsat Ultra model. The Viewsat Ultra will
guarantee your experience to be a very enjoyable one.
Sonicview is another major brand in the FTA game. When support
is what you want, Sonicview is what you should get. The quickest of
possible support and wide variety of features make Sonicview receivers
the wave of the future. This amazing FTA receiver is made in the USA
and is available to all consumers in the North American Sonicview
market. Think about Sonicview next time you make a free to air receiver
FTA Files and and FTA Fixes are always available within speedy
time. Our FTA Fixes are superior to all while our FTA Forums provide
amazing FTA Files for all. From FTA Receivers to FTA Guides and FTA
Support you will find everything you need at the one true and official
FTA Forum where everything for your F2ATV needs are met. Don't miss out
on any of the latest F2ATV news bulletin or F2ATV keys. From the latest
FTA update source come to the real Viewsat FTA forum!
Check back often for the latest FTA news and FTA for all your
models such as: Sonicview, Viewsat, Ariza, Buzz, CaptiveWorks,
Conaxsat, Coolsat, ExtremeView, Fortec, Pansat, and Skyview.
Viewsat FTA receivers are: Viewsat 2000 Platinum & Lite,
Viewsat 2000 Xtreme, Viewsat 2000 Ultra, Viewsat PVR, and Viewsat 9000
HD. Sonicview receivers include: Sonicview 1000, Sonicview 4000,
Sonicview PVR 1000, and Sonicview 8000 HD.
Glossary of Terms
Nobody is born knowing every TLA (three-letter acronym) or buzzword of every hobby
or field of study. That's okay, really. Most of the time, you don't even need to know
what a word means; if all you do with a PID is type it into your receiver, who cares
what PID stands for?
But thankfully, most FTA explorers are of a curious bent. They're looking for new
channels with new experiences. And curious people often want to know what a word or TLA
really means. If that sounds like you, here are some FTA-related definitions and
explanation of terms you'll hear as a satellite hobbyist.
At the end of most of these definitions, there's a
to a Wikipedia entry for a lengthier explanation.
(If you find a related term that isn't covered here, please
let us know so we can tell you and add that term here.)
Analog The old style of TV delivery, where the amplitude
or frequency variations corresponded to the intensity of particular colors.
Antenna For most satellite TV signals, it's a parabolic
dish. For over-the-air TV reception, it's usually shaped pointy, bow-tied, or round.
APID Audio payload identifier. The number associated with
a particular audio channel within a multiplexed stream.
ATSC The standard developed by the Advanced Television
Systems Committee for digital TV transmission. In the Americas,
it replaced the NTSC analog system. link
Attenuation The amount of strength that a signal loses
as it travels through space. link
Azimuth In pointing satellite dishes, it's the compass
direction of the satellite. link
Bandwidth The range of frequencies used by a given signal.
Bird Slang for satellite.
Bit The one-or-zero basic unit of digital communication.
Bit Rate The amount of information sent per unit of time,
typically expressed in kilobits (kbps) or megabits (Mbps)
per second. link
Broadcast Distribution from one sender to many recipients.
C Band The range of frequencies used by large (six feet or
wider) dishes. link
Carrier An electromagnetic wave that carries program
content in its signal. link
CATV Originally Community Antenna Television, where a
local system would put an antenna on a nearby hill to
pick up regional over-the-air TV signals. Later used for all cable TV.
Channel Depending on how it's used, a channel can be a
specific frequency for a given information source, or it can be the information source itself.
Circular Polarization The polarization method in which
the signal is transmitted in a clockwise or counter-clockwise
sequence. Used by Dish Network and Bell TV.
Clarke Belt The only place where satellites can stay in
geosynchronous orbit. It's a narrow band about 22,000 miles above the equator. The idea
of geostationary orbit was first widely popularized by Arthur C. Clarke in 1945.
Coaxial Cable The thick wires with (typically) screw-on
connectors that link LNBs to switches and receivers. It's also used by cable TV providers.
For FTA, use RG-6 grade or better, not RG-59.
Conus Short for CONtinental United States. You could also
say it means the contiguous 48 states.
DBS Direct broadcast satellite, or satellite programming
intended for direct reception by home viewers.
Declination (Magnetic) The difference between true north
and magnetic north at a given point.
Digital Any technology expressed numerically, as opposed
to analog. link
Down Converter A device which converts the received
signal to a frequency better able to travel to the receiver. Typically found in the
antenna feedhorn. link
Downlink The link from a satellite to a ground station.
DTV Digital TV. All HDTV is DTV, but some DTV is not HDTV.
DVB The digital video broadcasting standards maintained
by an international consortium. Some of those standards of interest to FTA viewers are
DVB-S, used in almost all FTA receivers, and DVB-S2, which is capable of HDTV.
Earth Station A place on the ground designed to communicate
with satellites. Usually used to describe large teleports, but technically, any active
satellite dish is part of an earth station. link
EIRP Equivalent isotropically radiated power, or in small
words, the strength of a signal at a particular spot.
Elevation The up angle a dish needs to point to a given
FCC The Federal Communications Commission, the independent
government agency in charge of regulating all radio-wave signals.
Feed Any digital stream. Typically used to describe
temporary streams on satellite.
Feedhorn The part of a satellite antenna positioned at
the focal point of the dish's parabola. link
Footprint The area of the earth's surface from which a
particular satellite's signals can be received.
FEC Forward error correction, or added bits used to
compensate for reception errors.
Frequency The measurement of how often a cycle repeats.
FTA Free-to-air, meaning unencrypted. FTA TV channels
can be viewed without a subscription by anyone with a matching FTA receiver.
Geosynchronous The kind of orbit where the satellite stays
in the same position relative to earth. While the earth spins, a geosynchronous satellite
has travel almost 2 miles per second to keep up.
IRD An integrated receiver and decoder. Y'know, a typical
satellite receiver. link
Ka Band Called K-above, it's covers the microwave
frequencies of 26.5 to 40 GHz. link
Ku Band Refers to K-under and pronounced kay-you. It's the
set of frequencies used by relatively small dish antennas.
Linear Polarization The polarization method in which the
signal is transmitted in a vertical or horizontal sequence. Used by most FTA Ku-band
and C-band channels. link
LNB(F) Low-noise block converter, sometimes including the
feedhorn. Converts satellites' high frequencies to lower frequencies better suited to
traveling through coax to a receiver.
MPEG A set of audio and video compression standards set by
the Motion Picture Experts Group. link
Mux Short for multiplexing, the way of sandwiching
multiple channels into one stream. Sometimes used to describe the channels within
one stream. link
NAB The National Association of Broadcasters, the trade
organization for over-the-air radio and TV stations.
NTSC The analog TV system previously common in the Americas,
named for the National Television System Committee. link
OTA Over-the-air, or terrestrial broadcasting. In other words,
an earth-only signal that you get directly from a station a few miles away.
PAL Phase alternating line, the analog TV format used in most
of Europe and elsewhere. link
Signal Rate The rate of raw data flow in bits or kilobits
SNG Satellite news gathering. Typically a temporary feed,
it can be fun to watch reporters prepare themselves.
Solar Outage When the sun lines up with a particular
satellite for a few minutes near midday around the equinoxes. The shadows cast during those
times can be helpful in showing where line-of-sight to that satellite may be blocked.
Spot Beam A satellite signal with a small footprint. Often
used to send a local OTA station's signal to pay-TV satellite viewers near that station.
Station-keeping The adjustment a satellite makes to stay
in the same apparent position. link
TLA Three-letter acronym, or three-letter abbreviation.
TLA is a TLA. link
Transponder Short for transmitter-responder, it's a device
that receives a signal and sends it back out using a different frequency.
TVRO Television receive-only. An old term used to
distinguish typical home viewer setups from more elaborate earth stations that both
send and receive signals. link
Uplink The link from a ground station to a satellite.
VPID Video payload identifier. The number associated
with a particular video channel within a multiplexed stream.
Links to get more FTA information
The more you understand FTA, the more you'll be able to enjoy it. Use these links
as jumping-off points to find more information. Note that all of these links are to
sites outside the control of FTAList.com, which does not endorse any particular
information source or dealer.
More FTA info:
- LyngSat, the global FTA channel listing source
- DBS Talk, lots of help, especially for Dish and DirecTV
- Satellite Guys, a great place to ask FTA questions
- DishPointer, the best help to point your dish
- LegalFreeToAir, it's another FTA forum
- Fridge FTA Forum, a good place for small-dish C-band info
- Ricks Wildfeed Forum, a great place to find feed information
- FTA Basics and a brief history of the American market
- SatBeams, full of satellite footprints and more
- TELE-audiovision International Magazine
- Wikipedia entry for FTA
- North American MPEG-2 Information
- DMS International, North American FTA equipment wholesaler
- Fortec Star Satellite Systems, satellite equipment company
- MyLocalInstaller, satellite installer directory
- SatHint, a list of C- and Ku-band FTA channels
- SatScams, a blog with a cautionary tale for pirates
Online FTA dealers:
Not FTA, but useful
- Antenna Web, see broadcast stations in your area
- TV Fool, another site to use to find over-the-air TV
- Titan TV, the best online TV listing source for FTA
- Beeline TV, with links to streaming video from around the world
- wwiTV, another site with links to streaming video from around the world
- iDesiTV, just South Asian streaming TV links
- FilmOn.TV, free streaming video from a changing pool of sources
- IMDb, home of tons of movie info
Getting Started Overview
What you absolutely need:
- A clear view of the southern sky
- A dish, 30 inches or wider
- A Ku-band LNBF
- A Free-to-air DVB receiver
To hit multiple satellites from one dish, add:
Really helpful stuff for installation:
- A compass with degree marks
- A level
- True RG6 coax cable
- A 7/16-inch wrench, for most dishes
- A portable TV
- A signal strength meter
Find a place for the dish
There are several considerations in finding the right place for your dish. The first and
most important is making sure that the dish will be able to see the satellite(s) you want it
Use the channel charts to determine which satellites you want. Then go to a
satellite angle calculator,
pick the satellite, enter your location, and see what comes up. Here's how to read the results:
- Elevation is the angle that the dish needs to point into the sky. For example,
45 degrees is halfway between pointing straight across the ground and straight up
from the ground.
- Azimuth is the compass direction the dish needs to point. For example, due south
is 180, southeast is 135.
- Skew is the direction to tilt the LNBF on its arm. Used for stationary dishes.
- Magnetic declination is the amount to add or subtract from your compass
reading to reflect the fact that true north is not the same as magnetic north. You can
find out what it is for your location by visiting
Determine the apparent compass direction by adjusting the azimuth by the magnetic declination
factor as needed. Then go look to see whether there are any obstacles in that direction. If
you plan to use a motorized dish, repeat this step for each direction you need.
Example: From Zip Code 80222, I want to see Galaxy 18 (123 W). When I plug that
info into the satellite angle calculator,
I get Azimuth 207.1. From the magnetic
declination site, I know that I should subtract a little over 8 degrees from the azimuth
to get my compass reading, which should be about 199 (19 degrees west of due south).
The 0-declination line runs close to the Mississippi River. Viewers west of the line must
subtract from the azimuth; east of the line, viewers must add to the azimuth to get the
If there are any obstacles in the distance along this line of sight, the signal may be
able to clear them. For example, at an elevation of 35 degrees, you can clear a 14-foot-high
obstruction if the dish is just 20 feet from the base of it. Higher elevations require less
horizontal distance to clear an obstacle; lower elevations require more distance. You might
be able to use trigonometry
to compute just how much of an obstruction you can clear.
If you want to install a motor to point a single dish at multiple satellites, verify
that your chosen spot is not blocked in any of the directions you need.
Homeowners/Neighborhood Associations may not restrict you from erecting a dish
less than one meter wide (about 39 inches). Even if a contract or covenant forbids them, the
Federal Communication Commission's rules
make those portions of the contract unenforceable. With rare exceptions for historic districts,
all that an association can legally do is require you to place the antenna in the least
obtrusive place that still allows for reception.
Condo/Apartment Residents may erect the same small (less than 39 inches) dish
regardless of contracts to the contrary, but only in "exclusive use" areas such as private
balconies. Residents may be restricted from attaching the dish to permanent structures.
In such cases, tripods or weighted bases can be used to keep the dish steady.
Weather is one last consideration. It's much easier to wipe snow off a dish if
you can reach it without a ladder.
Get your equipment
FTA reception requires three main components: the receiver, the LNBF, and the dish.
The receiver is the brains of the system. Its job is to convert the DVB (direct
video broadcasting) signals to something your TV can understand. It can be a standalone box
or a card for a computer.
- To search wild feeds and other ephemeral signals, the receiver needs blind search.
- To support multiple dishes, make sure the receiver supports DiSEqC
(digital satellite equipment control).
- To support a motor to move a dish, the receiver needs USALS support or
DiSEqC version 1.2.
These features can come in handy later even if you don't think you need them now.
Most modern receivers should be able to handle HD channels. Although there are still a
surprising number of standard definition channels available, it's much better to be able to
watch both kinds. If you find a really low-cost standard-definition receiver, that's
okay; the receiver is the easiest component to upgrade.
The LNBF (low-noise block converter feedhorn) is the piece that points at the dish.
The LNBF translates and amplifies the weak signal from the satellite
into a stronger signal that can travel to the receiver via RG6 coax cable.
The LNBF's signal sensitivity is measured in decibels. A rating of 0.5 dB is okay,
and 0.3 db is good. The lower the rating, the better you can receive weak signals.
Almost all FTA LNBFs use linear polarity. Some are "standard," with one local oscillator
(LO) frequency; others are universal, with a range or LO frequencies.
In North America, almost all FTA Ku-band channels can be received using either LNBF type.
The dish is the simplest part, although it's the hardest to ship. The minimum
diameter is about 75 centimeters (about 29.5 inches), but a larger dish will help you pick
up more, fainter signals. A larger dish will also help maintain a viewable signal when it
rains. As noted in Part 1,
you can install a dish up to one meter wide (about 39.3 inches) almost anywhere in the US.
Check with local satellite dealers for their dish prices, then check the prices of
online dealers. Because dishes are so bulky to ship, you may want to buy a larger dish
locally. If you're just getting started, your best deal may be a package price for the
whole system shipped at once.
Installing a new FTA system can look difficult, but it's really not bad if you take it
one step at a time. If you really don't think you can manage it, you can pay a local
satellite installer and skip these steps.
1. Install the pole. Whether it's a short pole on the roof, a longer pole on
the ground, or any other configuration, this is a crucial first step. Use the spot and
the angles you found in Step 1.
As you install the pole, the most important point is the pole must be perfectly
plumb. If it's not straight up and down, the rest of your work will be much more
difficult. Use a level to check it in all directions, then make sure that the pole
will not move.
2. Install the dish and LNBF. If you don't have a motor for your dish, mount
the dish to the pole according to instructions. Connect it snug but not tight;
you'll need to move it around when you aim it.
Mount the LNBF to the dish arm. Point the dish in the general direction of the
satellite. When you raise the dish to the proper inclination, don't judge by the angle
of the dish arm. Most dishes are offset, so their elevation is higher than it would
appear if you pointed from the dish to the LNBF.
(If you are installing a motor with your dish, the process is a little more
complicated. Use the instructions that came with the motor to install the dish with
the right offset. The first satellite you want to find with a motorized dish will be
your "true south" satellite, which is the satellite closest to your longitude.)
3. Connect the receiver. Whenever you connect or disconnect anything to
the coax, make sure the FTA receiver is off and unplugged. Connect the coax from
the LNBF to the receiver, and connect the receiver to a television. This is
where a portable TV can be very convenient. Plug in the receiver and turn it on.
4. Aim the dish. Use your receiver to check signal strength, and more
importantly, signal quality. Use frequency and signal rate settings that match a
channel that you know is there. Move your dish left and right until you determine
the direction with the strongest signal quality. Then move it up and down until you
find the perfect angle. Once it's just right, tighten the dish in place.
The hard work is done. Run the coax connections inside, set up your receiver by your
television, and get ready to find some channels to watch.
Find your channels
You've installed your equipment and made sure that it works. Now comes the fun part,
adding channels to your receiver.
If you have a stationary dish, you can start with the chart of channels for the
satellite it faces. If you have
a motorized dish, you can go to the master channel chart,
or you can choose just the channels that are in a particular language.
If your receiver can blind scan, the easiest way to add channels is point the dish where you
want it, then let the receiver scan in all the channels. You can use the channel lists here to
match the frequency and PIDs so you'll recognize what you have, and to make sure your receiver
didn't skip any channels that we know about.
Another benefit from blind scanning is that you'll pick up "feeds", which are temporary channels
used to send a sports event or news coverage back to a central studio. These come and go, they
can be great fun to watch, and scanning is almost the only way to find them. Enjoy!